Meeting etiquette

Turkey-flag-140Business meetings

It is a good idea to be familiar with Turkish business etiquette before doing business with the Turks.

Meetings are important for Turkish business people. It would be a good idea for meeting to be scheduled one to two weeks in advance to avoid Turkish holidays.  It is recommended to send details about the people who will be coming to the meeting, including their positions, titles and responsibilities. Although Turks are not vey punctual, they expect foreign visitors to be on time. The meeting may start later than scheduled, but be patient.

Turkish society is highly influenced by Islam, so organize your appointments and meetings around each of the five daily prayer times.  You should not schedule any appointments during Ramadan or during July and August, since these are the most common annual holiday periods for Turkish business people.

The following sections deal with various issues concerning business meetings and examine the ways that Turkish culture deals with these issues.

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Importance of business meetings

The initial meetings are usually formal, as business is a serious matter and must be treated that way. So it is important to avoid being too casual and friendly, despite the personal relationship that might have been developed.

Initial meetings hardly ever lead to decisions and are used primarily as ways  to get to know each other. So don’t try to limit the discussion to business only.

At the start of the meeting, it is expected for you to greet your Turkish counterpart with a firm handshake. For the Turkish women, men should wait for the woman to offer her hand first.

Small talk is good to enter into conversation with before beginning business discussions. Presentations should be short and to the point. The proposal should be clearly structured and presented. Visuals in a presentation always help, so try using good, clear graphics with less text. It is also a good idea to translate important materials to Turkish, in order to get your message across.

Business meeting planning

There are various issues to consider when setting up a meeting with your Turkish counterpart:

  •       Schedule meetings ahead of time – at least one to two weeks in advance and confirm by email or telephone call.
  •       Learn the proper titles, positions and responsibilities of the people you are meeting with and the proper pronunciation of their names beforehand. You can use professional or occupational titles to address a Turkish business person.
  •       Make sure that your first contact is through a third party that is well respected. Trade shows, embassies and banks can provide contacts who can open doors and introduce relevant business partners.
  •       Avoid making appointments during Turkish holidays.
  •       Most businesspeople in Turkey speak some English, French and/or German. However, it is advisable to ask if an interpreter will be needed.
  •       Punctuality is important. If you expect to be late, you should call ahead and give an explanation.
  •       Be familiar with the people in your prospective business partner’s organization and their level of importance in the management hierarchy.
  •       Titles, such as Doctor or Professor, are appreciated, and are often used without adding the person’s family name.

Negotiation process

The negotiation process may take longer than usual. Turkish business people do not like to be put under pressure and do not like deadlines. Therefore any attempt to hurry the process will only produce negative results. Being patient is an asset when negotiating with Turkish counterparts. The financial benefits are not the only aspects of the negotiating process that should be stressed; power, influence, honour, respect are non-financial incentives that will also influence the business decision.

There are still many family run businesses in Turkey, although there are many big multinationals where a more corporate culture is visible.   Turks want to do business with those they are keen to, trust, feel comfortable with and can provide a long term relationship. If they sense that you are hiding something, you will most likely be rejected.

Decision making in Turkey can be slow. Be prepared to meet several times before the actual bargaining or negotiation stage. You will probably meet with less senior members of a family, before meeting with the key decision-makers. As negotiations proceed and you have been accepted as being trustworthy and your proposal is financially feasible, then it is likely you will meet the executives or senior members. Decisions are ultimately made by the head of the family or company.

Turks use tough negotiating tactics, so it is important to leave room for compromising at different stages. When you have arrived at a reasonable compromise, it should be presented in such a way that shows you made the decision because you like and respect your counterpart.

Meeting protocol

When greeting Turkish people in a professional setting, formal forms of address should be used. The first name is never used on its own. ‘Ms.’ or ‘Mr.’ is added to your given name. So, Mr. Ben Smith could be addressed as Mr. Ben or Mr. Smith, but never as ‘Ben’. It is correct to address a Turk as ‘Mr. Ahmet’ or ‘Ms. Ayşe’, but it is also acceptable to use the ‘Ahmet Bey’ or ‘Ayşe Hanım’ as forms of address. If you speak Turkish, use the formal ‘siz’ and not ‘sen’ form of the verb to refer to the second person, even if you know your contact quite well. It is expected to greet the most senior person first as a sign of respect, before greeting everyone else in the room individually. The most common greeting is ‘Merhaba’.

After the introductions, if your Turkish counterparts offer their business cards, this can be a sign that they are interested in developing a business relationship and you should offer your card in exchange.  It is suggested that you include academic degrees and titles on your card.  It is very important to maintain eye contact and smile when you present your card, and take the time to read the card that your partner has given you. This is seen as courteous behaviour, which is necessary to demonstrate that you are seriously interested in doing business.

How to run a business meeting

For Turks, the first meeting is more social than business. Their aim is to get to know you and it is extremely rude to insist on talking about business right away. Courtesy is crucial in business, so the ability to listen and show patience are the two qualities that the Turks appreciate most highly. You may be asked about your family, interests, cultural and historical questions about your home country, or sports. Don’t be afraid to ask the same questions. Turkish people like talking about their family and personal interests. When speaking it is important to maintain eye contact since this conveys sincerity and helps build a trusting relationship.

Business is taken very seriously in Turkey and meetings will have formal protocols and agenda that should be respected.  However, business may or may not get discussed in the first meeting as agenda items may not be strictly adhered to. Therefore, you should let your Turkish counterpart lead the discussion.

Presentations should always be short and to the point. Make sure that you have a clearly structured proposal. Avoid using too much text since Turks like to communicate visually and orally. Instead, try using diagrams and graphics wherever possible, and avoid complicated expressions and difficult words. It is important that your proposal clearly shows the mutual profitability and benefits of any agreement or partnership, since Turks are serious and astute in business.

Follow up letter after meeting with a client

After the meeting, negotiations and discussions will continue before reaching a deal or establishing a partnership. You should maintain personal contacts and share all the relevant information about the negotiation or the project. Throughout the negotiation, you should remain patient, calm, and understand that delays may occur.  If the negotiation is finished with a deal being reached, you should prepare a written contract, which will be strictly followed and respected by your Turkish counterpart.

Turkish business people believe that the principal strength of an agreement is in their partners’ commitment rather than the actual documentation. Nevertheless, the agreement may be lengthy and detailed.  It is recommended to have a local legal expert review the agreement, before the actual signing of the contract. However, it is not recommended to bring your legal representative to the negotiation table, as it could be taken as a sign of distrust.

There may be times when a signed contract is broken or needs to be modified, so being flexible and maintaining trust is important to nurturing an ongoing business relationship.

Business meals

Business entertaining usually occurs in restaurants. For Turks, the meal is a time to relax and engage in some good conversation and build the relationship on a more personal basis. They are proud of their cuisine, so wherever possible try to emphasise your appreciation of the food.

Attitudes towards business meals:

  • Do not offer to pay; the host always pays for the meal. The concept of sharing a bill is completely unfamiliar to them. It is polite to thank the host and return the invitation at the next possible occasion. When you are the host, you should choose a good restaurant and inform the restaurant that you will be paying the bill.
  • Business can be discussed during the meal, but it is advisable to let your host direct the topic of conversation.
  • Turks who are not Muslim may drink alcohol, but as the consumption of alcohol is prohibited by the Islamic faith, it is prudent not to order an alcoholic drink unless your host does first. The local drink called Rakı (pronounced rak-uh) commonly accompanies a meal.
  • At the end of a meal, tea or Turkish coffee will be served. Turkish coffee is a national drink, so it is important to try it at least once.  In fact, drinking coffee is gesture of hospitality and you must always accept a drink of tea or coffee, even if you just take a few sips.

Restaurant Etiquette

  • Be punctual for lunch or dinner. If the invitation was for 8pm, then you must arrive at 8pm.
  • Do not eat or drink before the oldest person at the table has been served and started to eat or drink.
  • Chicken, lamb and fish often form the base of the main course in Turkish cuisine, while pork is expressly forbidden for religious reasons.
  • Smoking is rather frequent at meals, so don’t be surprised if they take breaks between courses to have a cigarette
  • It is expected that guests will finish all the food on their plates and it may cause offence if you do not.

Business meeting tips

Some useful tips to remember in doing business with the Turks:

  • Appointments are necessary, but  first meetings are generally more social
  • Turkish people usually do business with those they trust, like and respect.
  • Dress conservatively: suits with tie for men and smart outfits for women are preferred.
  • Be punctual, but don’t expect punctuality from your Turkish counterparts
  • Don’t use high pressure tactics in order to close a deal, as it may turn against you.
  • Decision-making is a slow process, so be patient.
  • At meetings, documentation should be provided in both English and Turkish.
  • Lunches and dinners are for creating personal relationships. Don’t talk about business during a business meal unless the subject is brought up by your business counterpart.
  • A clearly structured and well presented proposal is very important, but not the only factor taken into account in making business decisions.
  • Small talk is useful for opening communication with most Turkish people.
  • When greeting, always greet the oldest person first; Turks have a great respect for the elderly.
  • Exchanging gifts is not necessary in the Turkish business culture, although they would be accepted with gratitude.
  • Maintain eye contact while speaking.
  • Speak slowly enough to ensure that you are understood, but without appearing patronising.

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